The Academic Work Environment in Australian Universities: A motivating place to work?

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Tasmania]On: 27 November 2014, At: 22:37Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

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    The Academic WorkEnvironment in AustralianUniversities: A motivating placeto work?Richard Winter a & James Sarros ba Monash University Gippslandb Monash UniversityPublished online: 14 Jul 2010.

    To cite this article: Richard Winter & James Sarros (2002) The Academic WorkEnvironment in Australian Universities: A motivating place to work?, Higher EducationResearch & Development, 21:3, 241-258, DOI: 10.1080/0729436022000020751

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • Higher Education Research & Development, Vol. 21, No. 3, 2002

    The Academic Work Environment inAustralian Universities: A motivating placeto work?DR RICHARD WINTERMonash University Gippsland

    DR JAMES SARROSMonash University

    ABSTRACT This paper identi es positive (motivating) and negative (demotivating)sources of academic work motivation in Australian universities. In 1998, the AcademicWork Environment Survey (Winter, Taylor, & Sarros, 2000) was administered to astrati ed sample ( ve positions, ve disciplines) of 2,609 academics in four types ofuniversity (research, metropolitan, regional, university of technology). A total of 1,041usable surveys were returned (response rate of 40 per cent). Across the sample, academicsreported moderate levels of work motivation. Work motivation was found to be relativelystrong at professorial levels but weak at lecturer levels. Quantitative and qualitative ndings indicated the work environment in academe is motivating when roles are clear, jobtasks are challenging, and supervisors exhibit a supportive leadership style. The workenvironment is demotivating where there is role overload, low job feedback, low partici-pation, and poor recognition and rewards practices. The paper concludes by discussing theimplications of study ndings for university leadership.

    Introduction

    During the period 1993 to 1998, senior university managers in Australia adoptedcorporate management principles and practices in response to government policiespromoting the commercialisation of higher education and nancial self-reliance forinstitutions (Clarke, 1998; Debats & Ward, 1998; Gallagher, 2000; Marginson &Considine, 2000; Winter et al., 2000). At the structural level, executive decisionmaking supplemented existing hierarchies in universities or supplanted collegialforms of governance (Marginson & Considine, 2000, p. 4). At the cultural level,universities aggressively engaged in entrepreneurial activities, particularly in the areaof faculty consulting (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997, p. 20) and the marketing ofinternational education (Pratt & Poole, 1999/2000, p. 19). At the same time,corporate forms of work organisation were introduced under the guise of qualityassurance mechanisms, performance appraisal and nancial reporting systems (Tay-

    ISSN 0729-4360 print; ISSN 1469-8360 online/02/030241-16 2002 HERDSADOI: 10.1080/0729436022000020751

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  • 242 R. Winter & J. Sarros

    lor et al., 1998; Winter & Sarros, 2001). As workloads intensi ed (McInnis, 2000)and pressures to raise university revenues increased, academics reported a lack ofconsultation (Martin, 1999, pp. 1522; Winter et al., 2000, pp. 292293), majordeclines in job satisfaction (McInnis, 2000, p.xiii) and high levels of personal stressat work (Gillespie et al., 2001, pp. 6265).To improve academic morale and motivation in universities, researchers argued

    attention must be paid to improving the perceived environment (or climate) inwhich academics work (see Lacy & Sheehan, 1997, p. 321; Ramsden, 1998a,pp. 361362). According to Ramsden (1998a, p. 361), changing the perceivedenvironment of Australian universities (i.e. poor morale and declining commitment)is likely to produce disproportionately large results in terms of institutionalproductivity and pro tability. But which aspects of the work environment need to bechanged (if at all) to encourage higher levels of academic motivation within Aus-tralias universities? Speci cally, which work environment characteristics representhigh/low sources of work motivation for academics in Australian universities? Toaddress these questions, a 1998 study examined the quality of work life of full-timeacademics within universities in Australia (Winter & Sarros, 2001; Winter et al.,2000). On the basis of study ndings, four questions are addressed in this paper:

    1. What levels of work motivation do full-time academics in Australian universitiesexhibit?

    2. To what extent do demographic variables explain levels of work motivation?3. Which work environment characteristics represent high/low sources of academic

    work motivation?4. What are the implications of these ndings for leadership in universities?

    To situate academics responses, ndings are aggregated under the headings of: (1)Work Motivation, (2) Positive Work Environment Characteristics, and (3) NegativeWork Environment Characteristics. The paper begins by describing the studysconceptual framework, sample and survey methods. The paper concludes by high-lighting the positive and negative aspects of academic work and discussing theimplications of these ndings for leadership in universities.

    The Study

    Conceptual Framework

    Following previous academic studies (Sarros, Gmelch, & Tanewski, 1997; 1998;Taylor et al., 1998; Winter et al., 2000; Wolverton et al., 1999), the study focusedon the perceived work environment to understand and explain an individual aca-demics attitudes and motivation at work. Academics were asked to report their: (1)personal (i.e. age, gender) and professional characteristics (i.e. quali cations, pos-ition, role, discipline area); (2) work environment perceptions (i.e. degree of rolestress, nature of job characteristics, immediate supervisors leadership style, degreeof university centralisation and formalisation); and (3) work attitudes (i.e. job

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  • Australian UniversitiesA Motivating Work Environment? 243

    FIG. 1. Conceptual model.

    involvement and organisational commitment). The studys Conceptual Model isshown in Figure 1.Re ecting employee involvement (Gollan & Davis, 1999; Vandenberg, Richard-

    son, & Eastman, 1999) and motivational approaches (Amabile et al., 1996; Hack-man & Oldham, 1980) to work design, academics were assumed to be intrinsicallymotivated by their disciplines and related teaching and research tasks (Lacy &Sheehan, 1997; McInnis, 1996, 2000), but extrinsically demotivated by workcontext factors such as insuf cient funding and resources, and poor managementpractices (Gillespie et al., 2001; Martin, 1999; Winter & Sarros, 2001). That is,academics are more likely to express positive work attitudes towards their jobs anduniversities when: (1) roles are clear and achievable, (2) job tasks are challenging,(3) supervisors exercise supportive styles of leadership, and (4) organisation struc-tures permit academics to in uence decision making. Conversely, academics aremore likely to express weak levels of motivation when roles are unclear and/oroverloaded, tasks are narrow and unchanging, supervisors show academics littlesupport or consideration, and university structures limit academic participation indecision making.Academics evaluations of the work environment are manifest in two broad work

    attitudes: job involvement (Kanungo, 1982) and organisational commitment (Mow-day, Steers & Porter, 1979). Both attitudes represent well-established indicators ofan individuals motivation at work (Brown, 1996; Mayer & Schoorman, 1992). Anacademic involved in her/his job implies a positive and relatively complete state ofengagement of core aspects of the self in the job (Brown, 1996, p. 235). Anacademic expressing commitment to the university indicates a willingness to remaina member of that institution and to exert considerable effort on its behalf (Mowdayet al., 1979, p. 226). Studies have shown that job involvement and organisational

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  • 244 R. Winter & J. Sarros

    commitment are distinct constructs (Brooke, Russell, & Price, 1988; Mathieu &Farr, 1991).

    Survey Design

    A self-administered mail survey, the Academic Work Environment Survey (AWES),was designed to provide comprehensive measures of academics demographic char-acteristics, work environment perceptions and work attitudes (see Figure 1). The99-item survey was pre-tested (18 academic participants at various levels across fouracademic disciplines) and piloted in a comprehensive Australian university (Winter,Sarros & Tanewski, 1998; Winter et al., 2000). Five-point Likert scales measuredacademic responses (1 5 never true to 5 5 always true, 1 5 strongly disagree to5 5 strongly agree). In addition, an open-ended question asked respondents tocomment on their feelings towards their current job environment.Established work environment and work attitude scales were sourced on the basis

    of their reported reliability, discriminant validity and use in educational settings [1].Respondents indicated the extent to which their current job environments werecharacterised by role stress (Beehr, Walsh, & Taber, 1976; Rizzo, House, &Lirtzman, 1970), enriching job characteristics (Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1989; Sims,Szilagyi, & Keller, 1976), supportive supervisory leadership (Stogdill, 1963), oppor-tunities to participate in (university) decision making (Aiken & Hage, 1966) andformalised rules, policies and procedures (Finlay et al., 1995). Job involvement wasmeasured using Kanungos (1982) ten-item scale (a 5 0.87) and organisationalcommitment using seven items (a 5 0.84) from Mowday et al.s (1979) Organiza-tional Commitment Questionnaire.

    Sample

    Between August and September 1998, surveys were administered to 2,609 full-timeequivalent academics strati ed by position ( ve levels), discipline ( ve disciplineareas) and type of university (i.e. four university groups). A total of 1,041 usablesurveys were returned (effective response rate of 40 per cent). Table 1 shows thetarget population and nal sample by academic position and discipline area cate-gories. As can be seen, the sample was fairly representative of the target populationin terms of both strati cation variables.Most of the 1,041 respondents were male (65 per cent), aged between 40 and 59

    years of age (69 per cent), tenured/ongoing (76 per cent), held a doctorate degree(65 per cent) and engaged primarily in teaching and research roles (75 per cent). Amajority of respondents indicated they had seven or more years at their currentuniversity (65 per cent) and in the higher education sector (73 per cent).

    Data Analysis

    Data analysis consisted of descriptive statistics (means, standard deviations) andqualitative comments to describe academics perceptions and attitudes at work.

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  • Australian UniversitiesA Motivating Work Environment? 245

    TABLE 1. Target population and nal sample by academic position and discipline areas

    Category Target population Final samplea

    Academic positiona

    Associate lecturer 602 8.7 79 7.6Lecturer 2,349 33.9 316 30.4Senior lecturer 2,044 29.5 343 32.9Associate professor 1,046 15.1 151 14.5Professor 891 12.8 123 11.8Missing 29 2.8TOTALS 6,932 100.0 1,041 100.0

    Discipline areasb

    Education/Humanities 1,771 25.5 326 31.3Science/Mathematics/Computing 1,536 22.2 222 21.3Business/Economics/Law 1,002 14.5 163 15.7Architecture/Engineering 750 10.8 105 10.1Health Sciences 1,873 27.0 222 21.3Other 1 0.1Missing 2 0.2TOTALS 6,932 100.0 1,041 100.0

    a Chi-square test indicated no statistically signi cant difference (c2 5 1.45, df 5 4,p . .05).b Chi-square test indicated no statistically signi cant difference (c2 5 0.66, df 5 4,p . .05).

    Correlation and multiple regression analyses were employed to: (1) examine workenvironmentwork attitude associations, and (2) identify signi cant predictors ofwork motivation. For cross-sample analysis purposes, mean responses were groupedaccording to the surveys ve-point scale classi cation:

    1. strongly negative (mean under 2.50)2. negative (2.51 to 2.90)3. neutral (2.91 to 3.09)4. positive (3.10 to 3.50)5. strongly positive (mean over 3.50).

    Table 2 presents reliabilities, means, standard deviations and correlation coef cientsfor all work environment and work attitude scales. Eleven of the thirteen scalesexceeded or approximated Nunnallys (1978) 0.70 criterion for adequate reliability.Construct validity was supported by scale correlation coef cients showing similarsigns and degrees of magnitude as reported in the survey pilot (n 5 189) conductedeleven months earlier (Winter et al., 2000, p. 286). For example, signi cant positivecorrelations between organisational commitment and job characteristics (r 5 0.29,0.24, 0.32, 0.39) indicated the more autonomy, task identity, feedback and jobchallenge academics experience at work, the greater their...

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